“The unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”- 1 Corinthians 7:14
Understanding how God regards the children of believers can help us determine whether or not they should receive the covenant sign of baptism. Throughout the history of redemption, the Lord has always called His people to mark those whom He has set apart for Himself. Old covenant Israelite males were circumcised to indicate the separation of the nation of Israel from the world (Gen. 17). Aaron and the priests were anointed with oil to ordain them for their special service (Lev. 8). David was anointed with oil to set him apart as Israel’s king (1 Sam. 16:13).
It follows, then, that the children of believers should also be marked by the covenant community if God views them as separated unto Himself. Today’s passage tells us that, in fact, our Creator does view the children of believers as holy—set apart from this world (1 Cor. 7:14). Note that this does not automatically mean that covenant children are rescued from God’s wrath. In the same verse, Paul says unbelieving spouses are “made holy” by their believing spouses, but he is certainly not claiming that unbelieving spouses thereby get a free ticket into heaven by marrying Christians. This is the great Apostle of justification by faith alone, who is clear that salvation requires personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:15–16).
The essential meaning of the term holy is “set apart,” and God can set apart anything for a specific use, even those things that are incapable of trusting in Him (Ex. 28:2; 29:34; Lev. 6:27; 19:24). So, when Paul speaks of covenant children as holy, he is simply telling us that they are separate from the world and not regarded in the same way as non-covenant children. John Calvin comments on today’s passage that “the children of the pious are set apart from others by a sort of exclusive privilege, so as to be reckoned holy in the Church.” Being set apart, covenant children have privileges such as Christian fellowship and hearing the Word of God. But they also have greater responsibilities than those who do not belong to the covenant community. If they never come to faith and repentance, they will suffer a greater punishment than those who were not born to Christian parents and were never part of the church (Luke 12:35–48). The privilege of heaven belongs only to covenant children who live up to their responsibilities of faith and repentance.
Presbyterians believe the church distinguishes believers’ children from unbelievers’ children through baptism (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 74). Whether or not you believe infants should be baptized, we can all agree that God expects more from those raised in a Christian home than those who do not grow up under the gospel. “To whom much was given … much will be required” (Luke 12:48). Let us remind our children of this and call them to repent and believe the gospel.
Passages for Further Study